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This week’s questions comes from a reader looking for clarification on a few points I’ve made:

It seems like you draw a distinction between memorization and studying. I get there are obvious differences outside of a school context but inside of a school, to me, they’re virtually the same thing. What are those differences in school?


I think about the relationship between memorization and studying as two nebulous spheres connecting like a venn diagram. I realize how unhelpful that is but hopefully with a little clarification this image will help. Perhaps I was just looking to use the word nebulous and sphere. It’s really just a hazy venn diagram.

This is very similar to the distinction I make between memorization and understanding.  Studying is the word I prefer to use for the process of trying to understand. I’m not always completely disciplined about this distinction for two reasons.

  1. This is a minor distinction that only a tiny percentage of the audience would appreciate.
  2. I regularly forget anyway. (I was raised without these distinctions too.)

Memorization is the process of recording and (more importantly,) recalling certain individual facts. Memorization in practice would be reading one side of a flash card and knowing what’s on the other side of that flash card.


Studying is more closely related to learning in my mind. When you memorize something, you’re looking for a single connection between two things. When you’re studying something, you’re looking at the relationship between a number of different important facts (but you’re less focused on the individual details.) So, when you look at one side of the flashcard, you might not know exactly what is on the other side of the flashcard but you should know how what you’re reading relates to a lot of other information.


For most of what this blog discusses, these two factors are intimately entwined with one another. That being said, in most classes, one of these factors is significantly more valuable than the other.


History classes can be a good example of this discrepancy. In some history classes, the tests are heavily focused on dates and names. In those history courses, memorization is the important part. In history courses that focus more on the general timeline of events, memorization isn’t all that important. (These two factors are so closely related that I rarely feel the need to distinguish the two. That can lead to it being confusing if you’re being precise.) Both factors still matter in both classes but they matter in different amounts.


Memorization helps you recall individual facts. Studying helps you understand the whole situation better. (Of course, this is mostly an artificial distinction I use to help clarify. In most contexts it would be almost interchangeable.) 


Why I Distinguish The Two?


Most of the time, making a distinction between these two forms of preparing for a test (studying, you might call it, to make this even more confusing,) is unnecessary.  It’s much easier just to focus on the nebulous connection between the two. When you study something, memorize the memorable parts. When you memorize something, try to understand it too.


The advantage to making the distinction between these two strategies is efficiency. Memorization provides a much less deep understanding of a subject in significantly less time than traditional studying. That less deep understanding can provide better results than a more deep understanding depending on the subject.


Let’s say you’re taking an anatomy course as an elective. (I know it’s a weird choice but play along.) In an anatomy course, you’re usually required to learn a huge number of bones and muscles. Considering it’s an elective, those are hundreds of relatively pointless facts. To learn how those bones interact with each other can help you become a more successful health majoring student but you can memorize all those muscles and bones in much less time than it would take you to study them.


Memorizing information lets you learn the bare minimum fast (or relatively fast.)


Of course, this can go in the opposite direction as well. If you’re taking an literature course, it’s virtually pointless for you to waste your time memorizing assorted facts about the book. In most cases, if you read it and get a general idea of what happened, you’ll be just as well suited for the test as if you spent hours memorizing it. Naturally, that comes with the risk of forgetting individual facts that can help you.


Studying information can also let you learn the bare minimum relatively fast if you’re doing it right.


In most cases though, the bare minimum to learn is a balance between studying and memorization. They’re virtually the same thing in these cases. That balance usually doesn’t have to be cautiously maintained by a student. It tends to come naturally in most situations. In this blog I try to point out the situations when it doesn’t.


The distinction between the two is not perfectly clear and they definitely overlap significantly but there is a difference. While I may bring up the distinction at times, it’s generally a small factor when it comes to study efficiency.
Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to follow and check out the archives to learn more. If you’re looking to master memorizing, studying, and your grades, check out the ebooks in the sidebar.

Q/A – What’s The Difference Between Memorization And Studying?

A B&C Students Guide To Mercilessly Crushing A Students At Their Own Game (While Laughing Your Way Towards The Ivy-League)

Are you smart but getting meh grades?

The smartest students are often the ones the school system leaves behind. It’s easy to motivate a half-wit (or even almost-wit – like a horse with a carrot dangled in it’s face to get it running. Giddy-up horsey!

You would never fall for that, right? Then this is for you.

It’s easy to procrastinate when you’re getting a raw deal. That’s the smart thing to do.

Academics is a game – and its prizes are good. Really good! There is more to the story than that though. What do you have to do to get that prize? And that matters even more than the prize. Study 18 hours a day for straight-A’s and a high-paying job someday in the distant future? Ughhh… Not me. That’s for sure.

I scored near the top of my college Engineering class while studying less than 15 minutes a morning. And seriously, I don’t sound like a super genius, do I?

Hint: I had barely scraped a 1.0 GPA in high school and I wasn’t skipping and having fun with friends either – I was… dare I say… trying my best.

Big Tip: trying doesn’t matter unless you’re experimenting or already using an effective strategy. Trying without an effective strategies is a waste that can plop your grades in the stinker. First step – STOP TRYING with ineffective strategies.

You got that?

Look… I’m a bit crazy. I get it. I’ve read hundreds of books on grades, learning, and memory. I spent sleepless nights studying obscure academic journals. I swear, I even read the book “How To Read A Book” and didn’t have to drink alcohol to do it!


You wanna’ know why?

Don’t tell anyone but… I care. I was emotionally crippled by the school system. I had heartless, lazy, and downright mean teachers (and a couple good ones that couldn’t help.) It took years for me to untangle their mess…

And I went to college and beat them at their own wretched game. Top scores. Easy studying. Time to make friends and impress the ladies. (You know… the important stuff!)

But I know… I wasn’t alone and I know there are others facing similar and worse challenges than I did. And I may be out of the warzone now but I can’t in good conscience leave you behind without my arsenal.

That’s why a decade ago I founded Smart Student Secrets and got link backs from LifeHack, HuffPo, and good college professors with names I can’t pronounce from all over the world that see these strategies crushing every day. But forget about them… the emails I get from grateful students… that’s the stuff a good life is made of.

My newest book is, in my opinion, the best book ever written for students that want to absolutely crush the academic game.

It gets you to focus your energy on the most important aspects of grades – giving you leverage on the system.

It shows you the big painful studying, you’re not benefiting from – that you thankfully get to stop today and forever.

It takes the latest in academic research on memory and puts into your hands, the exact memorization strategies that a Purdue Professor proved can let someone memorize 2.35 things for every one they’re memorizing now.

And this isn’t about “working harder” – and it’s not about “working smarter” either. (I cringe every time I read that phrase.)

It’s about working only when it matters most and creating the habit of motivated and effective learning.

I guarantee this… You can skyrocket your grades with my book while studying less than you ever had to study before. If I’m wrong, send me an email and I’ll refund you – no questions asked.

Please give me the chance to change your life for the better – it’s on me to prove it. What you’re going to do is: click on the link here or below, click “Buy Now”, fill in the boxes, and you’ll get your copy of the book through an instant download.

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Last chance! Don’t miss it at the lowest price and best guarantee I can do.


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